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Shapiro budget would spend heavily on mental health, people with disabilities

Patriot-News - 2/6/2024

AT A GLANCE: The biggest health-related proposals in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s 2024-25 budget are $100 million toward increased mental health resources in schools and an additional $20 million for counties to fund local mental health services. The budget calls for nearly $250 million in new state spending toward services for people with disabilities. This includes $34.2 million toward more waivers to allow people with disabilities, including autism, to receive home and community-based services and $214 million to provide a 12% reimbursement increase for providers of those services. Moreover, the administration says the $214 million investment will qualify the state for an additional $266 million in federal funds.

The budget would spend $50 million to further subsidize health insurance premiums for low-income customers of Pennie, the Pennsylvania-run marketplace for Affordable Care Act coverage. It would give $10 million to the health department’s Long-Term Care Transformation Office, which helps nursing homes and long-term care facilities address problems including staffing shortages and issues that can undermine care or force facilities to close. The budget would provide $10 million for the state’s 988 mental health crisis and suicide prevention hotline effort, with the money used to bolster staffing at the 14 regional call centers. It would spend $5 million to create walk-in mental health crisis centers in areas that presently lack one, and would spend $4 million to relieve medical debt for people with low incomes.

WHAT IT MEANS: Public health officials say mental health needs of students have skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic; school-based services can make it easier to connect students. The 12% reimbursement increase for community-based care providers is intended to help offset a shortage of providers attributed to low wages which have prevented people with waivers from being able to find services. The administration says Pennsylvania residents were saddled with nearly $2 billion in medical debt as of 2020, or more than one in 10 Pennsylvanians. The $5 million toward medical debt would presumably help seed a plan to buy bad debt at a deep discount, enabling each state dollar to eliminate far more in actual debt. The administration says too many calls to the 988 mental health crisis line get shifted out of state; the $10 million infusion would help prevent this.

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